JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A jury found Russell Tillis of Jacksonville guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping and abuse of a human body in the killing of 30-year-old Joni Gunter in 2015.
Tillis was found not guilty of human trafficking.
Investigators found Gunter’s remains buried in four holes on Tillis’ Southside property in 2016.
Detectives were led to the property by a confession from Tillis captured a fellow inmate, Sammy Evans. Evans was wearing a wire.
Tillis testified Thursday, saying the confession was bogus.
”Sometimes, you might do something; your conscience weighs on you. You rectify it. I don’t care about the death penalty. I expect the court to convict me of murder,” said Tillis.
The defense claimed Tillis knew the inmate was wearing a wire, and it was part of a plan for Tillis to commit suicide by the death penalty.
“He’s just spoon-feeding these detectives. At this time in his life, he’s depressed and wants to die. He’s facing 30 years in a slow, long, agonizing death in prison,” said defense attorney Charles Fletcher.
For the state, Alan Mizrahi said a map drawn by Evans based on Tillis’ jailhouse confession showed the truth and led investigators to where Gunter’s remains were buried.
”All we heard yesterday was the desperate attempt of a man indicted for first-degree murder that has a dismembered human being strewn in four different holes in his booby-trapped backyard,” said Mizrahi.
While on the stand, Tillis also accused his brother of killing Gunter.
A spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office told Action News Jax Tillis’ brother was never charged with anything.
The spokesman said Tillis’ brother was a witness for the state but was not called to testify.
Action News Jax’s law and safety expert, Dale Carson, said a Day One verdict indicates the jury didn’t believe Tillis’ version of events.
”The only thing that would act as an impediment to a conviction is the credibility of Tillis himself,” said Carson. “Were he to carry the day and convince the jury panel that he was not the actual killer, then we would still be waiting for the jury to conclude deliberating.”
The case now moves into the sentencing phase beginning Wednesday, April 14.
Tillis faces the death penalty with a minimum sentence of mandatory life in prison.
Cox Media Group